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posted by takyon on Sunday February 21 2016, @05:15PM   Printer-friendly
from the arcsecond-arcfirst dept.

NASA's working on a telescope with an even wider eye than Hubble

NASA said Thursday that it's getting down to business building a new telescope that could get us a step closer to finding E.T. and perhaps reveal other mysteries of the universe along the way.

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will have capabilities that make it similar to taking Hubble's telescope and putting a panoramic lens on it. It will carry a wide-field instrument allowing it to capture images with the same depth and quality as Hubble, but covering 100 times its field of view.

In addition to having such a wide view of parts of space, WFIRST will also sport a coronagraph that can block the glare from individual stars to better characterize not only planets orbiting those, but the atmospheres of planets as well.

"It will also develop technology that will pave the way for finding and characterizing Earth-like planets in the future," said Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute in a statement.

Much of the heavy lifting of identifying exoplanets has been shouldered by the Kepler Space Telescope, which is now far past its prime and continues operating in a mechanically crippled condition. But that will soon change with the impending launches of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), set for 2017 and 2018, respectively.

WFIRST will follow those two into space in the 2020s, succeeding current workhorses like Hubble, Kepler and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Combined, they will create a next-generation three-pronged attack to find new planets, including Earth "cousins" that could be habitable.

The current running total of confirmed exoplanets stands at just over 2,000, but NASA expects that WFIRST alone will net thousands more exoplanet discoveries just from staring at the crowded central region of our own Milky Way galaxy.


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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by fishybell on Sunday February 21 2016, @07:36PM

    by fishybell (3156) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 21 2016, @07:36PM (#307830)

    What's the point of make the field of view wider? Since the objects that are being imaged are far away and large they don't exactly move much from our perspective. Most shots the Hubble takes are composite shots of dozens or hundreds (or thousands) of images stitched together. Since it says it will be taking shots with the same resolution, but with a wider field of view, why not engineer it to have the same field of view, to take higher resolution shots? (I know, resolution is a product of the entire engineering of the craft, not just the sensor)

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21 2016, @09:13PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 21 2016, @09:13PM (#307870)

      Look at slides 5, 7, and 8 [caltech.edu] for one quick answer.

      • (Score: 2) by inertnet on Sunday February 21 2016, @11:44PM

        by inertnet (4071) on Sunday February 21 2016, @11:44PM (#307922)

        This line on slide 6 convinced me: "Important targets for JWST and large ground-based telescopes".

        Finding targets for James Webb Space Telescope looks like a very valid goal to me.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Sunday February 21 2016, @10:56PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday February 21 2016, @10:56PM (#307909) Journal
      A big one is how long it takes. The article above says that the new telescope will have 100 times the field of view. That means 100 times less pictures to take to image an object with a relatively large visual area for the same resolution. For example, they could do variable or binary star studies of nearby galaxies (which are things which do change on short time scales).
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @12:26AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @12:26AM (#307930)

      So, the National Reconnaissance Office [nro.gov] (NRO, the space spies who actually help with sitrep, weather, and natural disasters -- Good spies, not NSA LOVEINT spies), gave NASA not one, but TWO Hubble-class telescopes as hand me downs. The NRO had them in orbit and said that as long as NASA didn't point them at earth, they could have control of the two spy sats. [space.com]

      The only problem is, they don't have long range optics to focus things. They're designed for HD images of the up-close planet, but the mirror and dimensions are about the same as Hubble. Why don't we come up with a plan to use them?

      NASA said they might be able to use them as part of an asteroid hunting network, or maybe fling one to Mars to take some up-cloese pictures there. Three telescopes NASA has right now already have a combined "eye" TWO TIMES wider than Hubble. Now, it may be true that they have more retina area, but they have shit optics. And when we're talking radio arrays, as you likely are, then "optics" means focusing power. While it's great to be able to see a bunch of space at high sensitivity, it's also necessary to see in more than just the radio spectrum, and to see a small spot very far away. You can only do so much in post processing.

      Protip: The USA doesn't have any problem getting to space without our shuttles. NASA is not the only space program, we only give money to Russia to get astronauts to orbit for diplomacy. NRO launches the biggest rockets in the world. [space.com]

      Cue the jingle: The More You Know....

    • (Score: 2) by Gravis on Monday February 22 2016, @03:30AM

      by Gravis (4596) on Monday February 22 2016, @03:30AM (#307984)

      What's the point of make the field of view wider?

      so they can finally get your mom into frame. (≧∇≦)/

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @03:02AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @03:02AM (#307971)

    Do astronomers need to correct for the various motions of the earth (rotation, revolution, solar system motion, galaxy motion) when estimating how far away stars are? It seems like all of these would affect redshift.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @04:10AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @04:10AM (#308004)

      It depends upon what you're looking at. Redshift tells you the radial speed of the object toward/away from you and not how far away it is. There are other techniques for that (such as parallax or comparing to "standard candles"). The change in wavelength you get from the Doppler effect goes as the ratio of the radial speed to the speed of light. When you're looking at the wavelength shift in spectral lines from stars, the speed of the Earth is pretty small compared to the ability to determine exactly what wavelength you're looking at. However, when you have a very sensitive detector and you're looking at the cosmic background radiation, you can detect these motions rather easily and you need to correct for them because they become the dominant signal you see. Some nice info here [ucla.edu] (including proper attribution for its prediction and detection).

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @02:47PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 22 2016, @02:47PM (#308164)

        Thanks, that is a very nice site. Informative, peppered with insider comments, little formatting BS, etc.